Warner Bros. // 2008 // 107 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 4th, 2008
This time, they're running from the joint.
"Gentlemen, start your engines. It's gonna be a bumpy f -- -ing ride!"
It's only been one day since Harold (John Cho, In Good Company) and Kumar (Kal Penn, The Namesake) went on a wild hamburger run, and the pot-loving pair is preparing to take a journey to Amsterdam. If you don't know why they want to go to Amsterdam, you probably don't love pot as much as they do. Kumar makes a small mistake on the plane trip there, which surprisingly causes the pair to get arrested. A government agent (Rob Corddry, The Daily Show) thinks Harold and Kumar are a threat to national security, and throws them in Guantanamo Bay. As the title implies, Harold and Kumar then escape from Gitmo and take a long road trip to Texas in search of an old pal who might be able to help them out.
Did you see Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle? If you did, you will recall that it stayed well within the genre confines of the "stoner movie." Two guys got the munchies and went on a night-long quest in search of some tasty White Castle hamburgers. Along the way, lots of silly things happened. Those expecting more of the same in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay may be surprised by what this particular film has to offer. Yes, the gross-out gags, far-out moments, and Neil Patrick Harris (Starship Troopers) are still involved...but this movie simply isn't content to be a standard-issue stoner movie.
There is really only one rule that stoner movies feel the need to abide by: at all times, the heroes must either be high or trying to get high. This film kind of violates that rule, despite the fact that it contains a scene in which Kumar has a threesome with his girlfriend and a giant mattress made of marijuana. Here, Harold and Kumar are simply leading us into a wide variety of bizarre and strange situations, and their diverse ethnic backgrounds enable the movie to use the characters as a springboard for a wide variety of race-based humor. Like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, this film spends a great deal of time playing with stereotypes. Sometimes this is successful and subversively hard-hitting, but too often it simply dissolves into a puddle of stupidity, such as an overlong sequence in which Harold and Kumar hang out with a redneck couple.
More than a few critics have tapped Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay as a great political satire. I wish I could say the same, but I can't. The film certainly does contain a lot of political elements and seems to be striving for a level of The Daily Show-style sharpness. However, it plays far too irresponsibly with the elements it uses to be credible as satire. For instance, there is a scene in which Harold and Kumar meet President George W. Bush. They hang out, smoke weed, and talk politics with Dubya for a while. Offbeat and a little controversial ("Hey, the President likes weed, too! Hahaha!"), but does the scene attempt to offer any genuine satire? Not really. When the pair is thrown into Guantanamo Bay, a mean guard named "Big Bob" attempts to make the pair perform embarrassing sexual acts. This childish routine is about as old as the "dropping soap in the shower" bit, and it represents a wasted opportunity for some wicked social commentary. The two commentary tracks included on this disc confirmed my suspicions: both of the directors admit that they aren't trying to offer any political message. They just thought it would be funny to include hot-button political people and topics in a movie starring Harold and Kumar.
Video quality is average, looking sharp during the daytime scenes but a little weak during darker moments. Sound is good, but a bit uneven. Some of the song selections (included a seemingly insecure tune about the superiority of the singer's...uh...doodle) are pumped way too loud in comparison to the rest of the film. I guarantee that you will need to adjust the volume a couple of times. Extras are solid, though. There are no less than 27 deleted scenes, and many of them are funnier than the film's strongest moments. There's also a silly PSA from "President Bush." An odd feature called "Dude, Change the Movie" permits the viewer to mix up their viewing experience by adding deleted scenes, removing scenes, and generally mucking things up. I didn't bother with this, but have fun if that sounds like your thing. Two commentaries are included. The first features the two directors and the two stars, and it's a pleasant track. The weird entry is the second track, which contrasts more technical info with the directors with strange interviews with "George W. Bush" and "The Real Harold Lee." That one is just plain odd.
Though I'm not a big fan of the movie as a whole, I really do like Harold and Kumar. It's hard not to like them. They have a crassly infectious Odd Couple-style charm, and we're always rooting for them no matter how bad the movie gets. Kal Penn gets most of the broadly funny moments as the noisy Kumar, but John Cho's subtler reactions to Penn's behavior are equally funny. However, they are both topped by Neil Patrick Harris, beautifully reprising his half-psychotic turn from the first film. Harris plays himself as a self-loving, pill-popping maniac, and gets to do a little bit more here than he did in the first film. Rob Corddry is not as funny as one might hope, but he does provide a laugh or two. Roger Bart (The Producers) is also onhand, and gets to play the only truly intelligent and sensible government official in the movie (it's gracious of the filmmakers to include him). All of these players show great enthusiasm for the film, and that goes a long way towards making the film watchable (if not good).
I would never recommend taking illegal drugs to help enhance the enjoyment of a film. However, if you do get such a silly idea in your head, I'm not going to stop you.
Guilty, but the defendants will be happy to know they are not being sent to
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 6.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Commentary w/directors and stars
* Commentary w/directors, "the real Harold Lee" and "George W. Bush"
* Deleted Scenes
* "The World of Harold and Kumar"
* Bush PSA
* Dude, Change the Movie